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Cognotes offers in-depth help with George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion



Analysis of Major Characters

Themes and Analysis

Summary and Analysis

Important Quotes Explained

Study Questions for Each Act

Reading Questions and Quiz

Possible Essay Questions

*Staff and Credits

Analysis of Major Characters

Henry Higgins

Henry Higgins is a professor of phonetics and also the Pygmalion to Elisa. Although enthusiastic about his professions, he is a braggart of his achievements and often belittles other people’s intellectual abilities. Such trait can be seen when his ridicule on the bearded man’s conjectures about Elisa’s origins and his constant negative remarks about Elisa’s intelligence. Because of his proud nature and joking mannerism, he starts a bet with his fellow friend Pickering in the beginning of the play, saying that he is capable of passing a lowly flower girl as a duchess. This bet starts the drama of the play.

Although a highly intellectual gentleman, Higgins practices poor manners, and his rudeness annoys the public. A jerk to about every woman on Earth and a bully to Elisa, Higgins justifies his demeanor by saying that he treats everybody, even a duchess, as equally badly as one would treat “flower girls by the curbside”. Nevertheless, Higgins is kind by nature, and this characteristic of his has prevented the world from turning against him.

Higgins’s character is full of contradictions, which makes his actions and true intentions ambiguous to the audience. It is hard to know if most of what he has said was out of sincerity or not and this trait builds the suspense in the play of whether Higgins has feelings toward Elisa. He is also considered to be a static character. His personal traits don’t change (or “incorrigible” as marked by the author) throughout the play, but his intention toward teaching Eliza did. In the beginning Higgins only wanted to have fun playing the Pygmalion, but in the end, he wants to mold Eliza into a true lady. He reflects Shaw’s belief that everybody should be treated equal no matter his or her social class.

Eliza Doolittle

Before meeting Higgins, Eliza was a hard working flower girl who makes barely enough money to support her living. She is stereotyped as a “dirty” lower class, but she is virtuous and has a kind and innocent mind. When she implores Higgins to teach her phonetics, she never wanted to acquire any luxuries from his house, but only thought of improving her career with this new knowledge.

As she resides in Wimpole Street, she is often out of the place and oblivious of the expectations in the upper classes reign. For instance, she thinks it is perfectly fine to wear mismatched feathers on hat and to include the “cuss word” “bloody” in her small talk. Her cluelessness to the proper way to act in the upper class portrays the theme that when a person is taken out of their social norm, he or she often encounters conflicts and will not always fit in.

Elisa values respect and appreciation; that is why she despises Higgins’s rudeness to her and how her achievement seemed to him as merely a game. This trait reflects the idea that everybody deserves respect from society despite their social class.

With Higgins’s efforts, Elisa learns to speak perfect English and eventually passes the test at the garden ceremony. However, although Elisa may act like a duchess, her true transformation from a flower girl to a lady comes about when she finally realizes that she can make a living by her own out of teaching phonics. In the end, Elisa has become a strong and independent lady, and no longer a feeble flower girl in the gutter.

Colonel Pickering

Pickering is an old chap, a professor of Indian dialect, and a foil to Higgins. While Higgins is boorish and treats everybody as garbage, Pickering is polite and treats every girl, even a flower girl, like a duchess. Nonetheless, Pickering’s kindness to people is genial and detached: he didn’t even bother to congratulate Eliza on her accomplishments. Despite this, it is from Pickering that Eliza learned the importance of respect and truly feels like a lady in his presences. The characteristics of Pickering add kindness to the play and serves to develop the theme that appearance will not identify a person as an upper classman but it is the person’s mannerism that ultimately makes the person a true duchess.

Mrs. Pearce

Mrs. Pearce is the old housemaid that serves in Professor Higgins’s house. She is very aware of the class difference and is aware of both sides of the social class problems. She sees the consequences of Higgins’s experience with Eliza and disapproves of his bet with Pickering. The character of Mrs. Pearce serves as an unbiased view of the conflicts presented by both upper class (Higgins) and lower class (Eliza). She often mediates between Higgins and Elisa’s arguments, and constantly reminds him when he has made Elisa mad.


A former member of the upper class, Freddy is humble and kind and has the manners of a gentleman. Freddy is obsessed with Eliza and is reported to have been creeping on Eliza every night under her windows. Freddy serves as the person that Elisa would marry in order to build the dramatic irony of the play. A fool, as commented by Higgins, Freddy is truly incompetent. He is constantly being bossed around by his sister and mother and can’t readily find a job to support Eliza. He is a perfect example of how the upper classmen would have a difficult time adjusting to being a lower class when the family suffers economic hardships.

Mr. Doolittle

Mr. Doolittle is a lower class scoundrel. He has at least 6 wives, spends all his earned money on alcohol, and “touches” people whenever he needed money. When Eliza is permitted to stay at Higgins’s residence to study phonetics, Mr. Doolittle immediately thinks that his daughter has decided on a path of prostitution. Uncaring and selfish, he sells Eliza for only 5 pounds. Unembarrassed by his actions and behaviors, Mr. Doolittle is happy about his being a rogue on the street.

However, when Mr. Doolittle becomes a richly endowed lecture to a moral reform society, he immediately becomes miserable with his obligation and expectations from the others. Now, he must provide for his family, marry his girlfriend, and give money to support his “newly gained” relatives. Nonetheless, even though his appearances dramatically changed through the transformation, his mannerisms don’t. He still speaks with his usual scandalous voice, and he criticizes Higgins, who wrote his “recommendation letter” to the moral reform society founder, for taking his freedom away, and putting him in a morose state. The character of Doolittle voices a piece of satire to the middle class morality in that sometimes a “deserving poor” lives a happier live than the rich middle class would because the lower class don’t have to care so much about their responsibilities.